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Code Eleven

Code Eleven

Graham recently decided he is too big to ride in the grocery cart when we shop together.

And I don’t tolerate screeching very well, so last Thursday evening at our massive local Superstore after hearing I want to walk! approximately twenty times in ten minutes, I lifted him out, cautioned him to stay by my side, and resigned myself to accepting his help pushing the cart.

Despite my constant nagging, he ran ahead and lagged behind and momentarily disappeared from view a few times over the course of our errand, but it wasn’t until I was paying for my groceries that I realized he had been out of my sight for more than a few seconds.

I wasn’t overly worried to be honest. Doesn’t every mother in the world have a story about the time their child wandered off in a public place? You know how it goes: I freaked out. I got hysterical. When I finally found him, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Surely Graham was right around the corner.

But he wasn’t.

I started to walk up and down the aisles calling for him. Every time I turned a corner I expected to see him; but I didn’t. After just a few minutes I started to trot, not walk, and yell, not call, for him.

GRAHAM! GRAHAM!

And then I was running and screaming at the top of my lungs and people were staring but I didn’t care. Up and down the aisles I raced.

GRAHAM! GRAHAM!

He wasn’t there.

A store employee approached me and asked me to describe Graham and his clothing. I did, down to every last detail. I vaguely heard a voice over the intercom, Calling all staff, Calling all staff! and noticed more employees fanning out along the aisles.

And all of a sudden, I realized there was no guarantee how this story would end. It hit me that both the happy stories and the heartbreaking ones—the horrible ones illustrated by weeping parents and solemn police officers—all start the same way.

They all start when a child goes missing.

That’s when I started to hyperventilate. I tried to keep calling for Graham but I couldn’t speak. A sympathetic shopper tried to calm me, but everything seemed blurry and I could feel panic taking hold.

Graham had been missing for almost fifteen minutes. My head swam with the realization that this story’s ending, my story’s ending, could very well be one that made total strangers put down their newspaper, brush away tears, and clutch their children closer. I started to sob.

Ma’am, he’s here! Ma’am!

I turned and there he was. Graham was holding the hand of a middle-aged man in a store uniform and looking sheepish.

He was in the audiovisual department watching a movie.

And I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So I did both and thanked everyone profusely and scooped him up in my arms and kissed him and chastised him for leaving my side.

And I thanked God for giving me a happy ending and a story that ended like almost everyone else’s: a story to be recounted to other knowing mothers with the appropriate mixture of exasperation and humour and gratitude and reverence.

Reverence because the experience, no matter how cliché, taught me a few things.

It taught me that my confident and capable exterior will crumble in an instant if I fear my son is in danger.

It taught me that Graham is not too big to ride in the grocery cart when we shop together.

And it taught me that at our local Superstore, Code Eleven indicates a missing child and precipitates a lock down of all exits.

But that knowledge, of course, is something I could have gone to my grave without knowing.

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